A voucher by any other name…

When President Obama met with congressional Republicans this week, GOP leaders were particularly incensed about Democrats using the word “voucher” when describing the Republican plan to end Medicare. Paul Ryan and others prefer “premium support,” and consider the Dems’ rhetoric to be “demagoguery.”

There are two main problems with this rhetorical disagreement. The first is that the GOP plan really does rely on vouchers, whether the party cares for the word or not. The second is that plenty of far-right Republicans are inclined to ignore their party’s talking-point instructions.

Here, for example, was Sen. Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin, a Tea Party favorite, explaining one of the things he likes most about his party’s Medicare plan.

“What I like about the Paul Ryan plan is it’s trying bring a little bit of free-market principles back into Medicare.

“If you need subsidized care, we’ll give you vouchers. You figure out how you want to spend. You select what insurance carrier you want to use. It’s a start.”

It’s not just Johnson. Last week, GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain argued, “Nobody’s talking about the fact that the centerpiece of Ryan’s plan is a voucher. Now, a lot of people don’t like to use that term because it has a negative connotation. That is what we need.” Even Fox News has referred to the Republican plan as being built around “vouchers.

If conservative Republicans are using the word, why is it outrageous when Democrats do the same thing? Are Johnson, Cain, and the Republican cable news network all secretly siding with the left?

As for the substance behind the claim, it’s worth noting that this isn’t just about semantics — the GOP claim that their scheme doesn’t include vouchers is just wrong. Paul Krugman explained yesterday:

[T]he ACA is specifically designed to ensure that insurance is affordable, whereas Ryancare just hands out vouchers and washes its hands. Specifically, the ACA subsidy system (pdf) sets a maximum percentage of income that families are expected to pay for insurance, on a sliding scale that rises with income. To the extent that the actual cost of a minimum acceptable policy exceeds that percentage of income, subsidies make up the difference.

Ryancare, by contrast, provides a fixed sum — end of story. And because this fixed sum would not grow with rising health care costs, it’s almost guaranteed to fall far short of the actual cost of insurance.

This is also why Ryancare is NOT premium support; it’s a voucher system. No matter how much they say it isn’t, that’s exactly what it is.

Given this reality, why do Republicans throw such a fit about the use of the “v” word? Because vouchers don’t poll well. For the right, the key is to come up with phrasing, no matter how deceptive, that persuades the public. If GOP leaders throw a big enough tantrum, they’re hoping everyone — Dems, pundits, reporters, even other Republicans — will use the words they like, rather than more accurate words that make the party look bad.

No one should be fooled.